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Speeches! Assembly Hall and Bypass
There has been a lot here and online in recent days on the topic of the Melksham Bypass and the Melksham Assembly Hall, both of which come up at the Town Council meeting in a few hours. Here's what I have prepared to say. Our bypass input is but one step of many, and our influence tiny. The input in all probability will be swept along in a flood of others and be of minuscule importance in the great play of things. Our decisions and actions on the Assembly Hall could turn out to be key to what happens in the future, reverberating through the years.
1. Circulated to all councillors at 01:40 this morning:
Without a recommended response in the agenda pack, I will be proposing that the Town Council submit the following response to Wiltshire Council with regard to the Bypass Consultation as a way to get the ball rolling. Cc Patsy and David who I suspect would want this text in electronic form if it’s the basis of the way we go.
1. Thank you informing us and our residents, for the opportunity for us to comment, and providing an opportunity for our residents to comment too. We have encouraged residents to attend the sessions and to respond directly. We commend their various inputs to you in addition to the following.
The proposed bypass route "10c" does not pass through the Melksham Town parish, but is mostly in Melksham Without, and we commend that parish on their hard work and thorough consultation and input. The proposed bypass route - or any changes to road structure or designation along the North-South corridor WILL have a major impact on Melksham Town, as would going further without changing the current setup.
2. We acknowledge and would welcome direct outcomes from your proposals:
a) A reduction in traffic and noise along the current route of the A350 through north Melksham and past housing in the closes off Hazelwood Road and Longford Road.
b) Shorter journeys from the A350 north of Melksham to and from the east of Melksham, moving traffic away from both the A3102 traffic centre and Woodrow Road (to Lacock) onto new routes.
3. We must also be concerned at the loss of passing trade at businesses along the current A350, and any loss of Town Centre trade from A3102 passing through.
4. We would welcome the various mitigations proposed in the document and additionally ask:
a) A footpath from the rear of the station car park directly east to the current A350 almost opposite Scotland road, and a pedestrian crossing there. This would reduce the walking and cycling distance from the station to Melksham Forest and provide a route purely on paths and cycleways with a single no through road.
b) Pedestrian and cycle provision along the current A350 south from Farmers Roundabout to the entrance to Melksham Cemetery, providing safe a walking route from the Hazelwood Road area, rear of the Campus and potential new canal-side build to the stores and station area.
5. Concern has been expressed that bypass route 10c provides a balloon of land that would be a natural building area. Although you re-assure us that housing is outside the scope of this consultation, your graphics show projected housing growth in Trowbridge, Westbury and Warminster as part of their justification for the bypass.
6. We note that models and data used in your reports are pre-covid, and pre-zero-carbon and request that you recalculate with updated models and numbers, considering alternatives with those new figures and models. With reduced commuting and reduced peaks, with cleaner and quieter vehicles, with a move to more mass transit and perhaps with measures to increase seat occupancy in private vehicle and to transfer long distance and Westbury waste and stone traffic to rail, and south port to south Wales traffic to a more direct route, we wonder if vehicle numbers and nuisance on the A350 have peaked and a bypass might be a solution to a problem that's going away or could be overcome in other and perhaps better ways. With the old model and data, this is unclear to us. There is further data on this in the independent input from Councillor Graham Ellis at http://grahamellis.uk/ge_mbc_20210808.pdf .
This is intended as a discussion starter ... not expecting it to be the final text.
2. Being Circulated as I publish this blog to all Councillors on the Assembly Hall
Thanks to Jeff Mills for the report [included in the Agenda Pack]
"Can't go on as it is” it states. Agreed - for in closed session in late June, the council voted in a redundancy package taking out key council staff and roles. It was stated that an annual loss / subsidy of £50,000 in a typical year was unsustainable for the taxpayers of Melksham Town.
The Assembly Hall has origins back to 1846 as the Cheese Hall, and the first public (none-military) performance there was in 1888. It remains much loved and - away from pandemic times - is vibrantly active. It brings people into the town and boosts the local economy, a real addition to life here. However, it's not been profitable and has been supported by between £10 and £15 per band D council tax property annually, with those who live within a mile paying out for those who come from 10, 20 or even 50 miles away.
So - what should we do? Last Tuesday afternoon, the report was released as part of this evening's agenda and we've had just 3 working days to consider it. We should be very careful not to take a vote tonight that will do damage to the future prospects of this asset and its place in the life and love of so many.
Since the agenda was published, I've spoken with many people and there is a real enthusiasm to take the Assembly Hall forward for the wider community - not only to speak in support (hundreds have done so), but to act in support too. Here [waves paper] is a skeleton Melksham Hall Community Interest Company proposal - objective, structure, financial plan and budget, issues and some similar models.
I am asking this evening that the Town Council moves forward with an option which leaves the way open to harness this enthusiasm whilst reducing costs and risks to themselves. I propose that we adopt an option which keeps the hall open and actively used, with a view to having a detailed CIC or equivalent structure in place by the New Year, looking to the launch of a new era at the start of the next financial year.
Of the hundreds of supporters who have signed up in the past few days, there is a core who are ready, willing and able - not just able but enthusiastic - to take this on. Let's support that opportunity not only for them, but also for the hall's users current and future, and for the wider benefits the hall brings to the town.
Published Monday, 9th August 2021
Bypass (my response)I have just uploaded my response to the Melksham Bypass consultation - it's ((here)) and it reflects previous views and thoughts from 13th June and 25th July which are ((here)).
Individual submissions close tonight (8th August), but there is an opportunity for the Town Council to put in its own official response in the next few days - tomorrow evening's meeting includes that on the agenda, and as a councillor I may well speak. See http://melksh.am for my quick links to the zoom code for the meeting and for thr agenda link.
Here is my summary - the final few paragraphs of an 8 page document!
6.1 I would prefer that new road building be limited, and have suggested an alternative to the 9.3 km of option 10c which I ask you to look at.
6.2 I am unconvinced that calculations use best current methods and current data, and feel they are based on an old world though we are now in a new world. So I ask you to visit your calculations based on current scientific knowledge, not on past practise and convention. It would be helpful to those of us who feel that asking a road builder to come up with a balance case for or against a road if you could get your outcomes ratified (or assisted by) a neutral organisation whom we both can trust.
6.3 Should, notwithstanding the concerns, this road build go ahead, I ask you to tune it for the future and provide ancillary infrastructure to help us (and Wiltshire) be best placed for zero carbon and otherwise environmental friendly living with the highest practical quality of life and enjoyment
6.4 Many thanks for undertaking this none-statutory consultation. Please ask me if there is anything in there you would like me top clarify / provide additional sources, etc. I write in the hope of a pragmatic solution that answers as many concerns as possible and work for the greater good of all of us - not just this year, but through the lifetime of any changes
6.5 Written by - Graham Ellis, 48, Spa Road, Melksham - in a private capacity, though I am a Town Councillor, Member of the Melksham Transport User Group, and board member of TravelWatch SouthWest; my input has been (to a very great extent) informed by electors and other members of those organisations.
Published Sunday, 8th August 2021
Bypass (again)With just today and tomorrow to make any inputs you wish to Wiltshire Council on their current bypass, I'm sharing a couple of answers I have written to correspondents in recent days. Assumptions are made:
1. That I have a vote in deciding if and how a bypass goes ahead (I don't, I just have an ability to input as an individual, and 1/15 of the decision of what the Town Council says which is also a single input.
2. That I represent the whole of the greater Melksham area. I don't, and whilst I will share my personal views I must refer you to other councils and councillors if you don't live in the town itself.
3. That it's OK to write to me in demanding terms that you would take offence to if I wrote that way to you, and that I have a limitless supply of time to answer you.
4. When I write back personally to you that there's no need to even confirm receipt of the answer, or you can have your email system set so that I get an automated response saying my answer has been spam trapped.
Having written that - yes, I am happy to engage, explain, discuss and I do have some time, now that I am retired, to do so. And, partly with the "Town Councillor" tag, partly because I have learned where to go, and partly because I have some established contacts, I can sometimes get things done or taken forward. Just, please, be polite, don't attack in emails; happy with a difference of views - refreshing to hear all sorts of ideas.
Many thanks for your email.
I would really prefer that a bypass is not built. I feel there are so many important reasons why not, many of which you have covered in your letter and I won't repeat them all here. However, there is also (unless things get changed) a desire (or need??) to move people and goods along the north - south corridor in our region. Bottlenecks on current roads lead to dirty air as people queue in traffic jams, frustrations to both motorists and people who live close to, walk or cycle along or cross them, noise, and the economic issues of longer journey times on and around roads that are taking more traffic than they were designed for, and are projected to increase further.
There can be reasons to support road building - I was in support of Portal Road from the Milk Churn onto Bowerhill Industrial Area, for example, and I support a northern entrance road from Melksham Station to Foundry Close, allowing buses to call at Melksham Station. I would be interested in a coupl of hundred metres linking the A36 to the A46 in Bathampton and a couple of improvement just along that road at The Viaduct. But a new Melksham Bypass, a Yarnbrook improvement and a Westbury Bypass seem like a 20th Century solution in the 21st Century, using pre-covid and pre-zero-climate data to mae the case for a post-covid, post-zero-climate world.
Saying "no" alone just raises barriers. Saying no, giving reasons (as you have done, and I have added to) and suggesting alternatives can be much more effective - done that with Melksham Trains, done that with the Campus, watch us with the Assembly Hall ;-) and buses.
So - alternative - complete that A36/A46 link, perhaps. Redouble rail through Melksham. One train passing through the other day carried the equivalent of 40 lorry loads. Look at models like "Connected Cities" and the "Transport for New Homes" which reduce the need to travel, make it more efficient, and deliver a higher quality of life by not having to travel so much. Bypass figures / calculations are based on a 60 year financial model - to these things and others like Bus Back Better really need to be factored in.
Now, pragmatically, I don't know what the decision on the bypass will be. But I want to make it clear that, should it be built, it should be done in a maximally advantageous way for everyone - not just the people using it to get from Lacock to Semington.
My personal reply - to be submitted over the weekend - will reflect the above.
REPLY AS A MELKSHAM TOWN COUNCILLOR
I'm a Melksham Town Councillor, and I represent residents in the South Ward and to a lesser extent the town as a whole. Our input will me made during next week - we have a stakeholder dispensation to be a few days after the individual deadline. I am just one of 15 on that council, and the only one elected independently. For Melksham Town, the benefits from traffic reduction along the current A350 onto a new road away from the town could be signiicant, and the disadvantages not as great as is felt in parts of Melksham Without (Bowerhill) though not other parts (Beanacre). I don't know what the outcome of our meeting on Monday will be.
As a Town Councillor, I have a vote / say on what goes into our submission, but it's a layer of indirection away from the decision maker who vote at Wiltshire Unitary Council. Your contact there - your councillor - is Nick Holder, who you residents voted in to the role in May. At Melksham Without Parish Council, your councillors for Bowerhill are Alan Baines, John Glover, Mark Harris, Rob Hoyle, David Pafford, Andy Russell and Robert Shea-Simonds. You didn't vote for them in May - not enough people stood; a missed opportunity for you to have a greater say, perhaps - you could have been there just by volunteering. I don't know all of them, but those I do know are excellent, as is the Melksham Without input to the consultation, already published.
"It is your duty and responsibility to leave our wonderful environment as intact as possible for future generations. "
Hmmm ... it's all of our moral duties, perhaps. My reponsibilities and duties as a councillor are:
* To respond to electorate queries and investigate their concerns (casework) communicate council decisions that affect them.
* know your patch and be aware of any problems.
* know and work with representatives of local organisations, interest groups and businesses.
* represent their views at council meetings
and, yes, at times such as the current one that can be intersting to deliver.
Thank you for your email to “undisclosed recipients”
I’m a Melksham Town councillor and am guessing that’s why I have a copy. Can you let me know your full home (Melksham) postcode so that I can let you know which councillors are “yours” to represent you, and which unitary councillor is the one to vote for you when it comes to that at County.
Personally, I very much agree with a lot - but not all - of what you write … see http://grahamellis.uk/blog164.html
MTC and MWPC councillors have a purely advisory role in the bypass project - each council is putting together its own responses (the MWPC one is already published). Yes, we are speaking for the people who elected us in May, but out input is just one among many and I encourage you to lobby your Wiilshire Councillor and make your own input by Sunday evening too. When I have your full address, I’ll be able to let you know who your councillors are, if you’re not in my ward. I do take a personal wider look too so I am informed by your writing, even if out of my area.
Readers will note that an emails to "Undisclosed recipients" gets a much shorted answer!!
Published Saturday, 7th August 2021
Footpath blockage - Alder Way to Conigre MeadUPDATE - 12th August - path re-opened. Thanks to everyone who's helped with this!
Original - Earlier this week, I heard from a resident that the footpath from the top of Alder Way to the front (bypass) entry of the cemetry was blocked by Campus works. We already knew that the path along the south of the Campus sight was to be closed for six months - but the closure of the next path to the south came as a surprise - unannounced, and not even on the Campus site. It's also a very well used path, giving both access to the cemetry and access to the Conigre Mead Nature Reserve from the residential areas of south ward.
Good news - access should be available again from the Hazelwood Road / Alder way area to Conigre Mead and the Cemetry by the end of next week - we do NOT need to wait for six months, which is the closure duration for the less used path along the south side of the campus site.
From the map:
* MELK21 closed for 6 months
* Red line (my sketching on the map) is the paths in question
* Blue circle is the unannounced blockage that should be clear by 13 August
My thanks to Will, Vicky, and also to Councillor Gary Cooke who lives just up the way for their help. Gary and I will keep an eye on this and I'll confirm here when the path is open again.
One of the interesting aspects of this blockage is that the path in question - although very well used for many years - isn't on the official public footpath maps, so it's not on Wiltshire Council's radar. Here's some text I wtote yesterday - my understanding the business of "official" and unofficial rights of way:
|Official rights of way are designated as such in various categories (footpath, bridle way, road used a s public path, byway) - most have been there for a very long time indeed and I’m not sure how they were originally mapped. Where things change (for example, new build housing) public footpaths may be added, and after a consultation process they can also be closed or diverted.|
If a path has been in use for 20 years without being shut off, it also becomes a right of way, though not an “official” one that’s mapped. Such paths can be submitted to be made official and go on the official maps. From reading the letter, it looks like Wilts Council acknowledge the path we’re talking about as a public footpath and are offering a muted apology for not doing the official notice thing because it’s not on their maps. I was careful to refer back to my used in the late 1990s in my “thank you” to clearly establish that it IS a public footpath, after 20 years.
There are also things called “permissive paths” where the landowner may let people walk, but he reserves the right to close them at any time (or apply conditions on their use). There are almost inevitably notices telling you, and the path will be closed one day every year to stop it being used continually and thus become a public footpath. Famous last words, but having grumble about this one, I do NOT think that Wiltshire Council will try to tell us that it hasn’t been in continuous use, letting them close it ...
Published Friday, 6th August 2021
Looking forward - Assembly HallJump down to (here) for Town Council suggested options and (here) for another alternative of mine also (here) for an account summary.
* Assembly Hall "cannot" carry on as at present
* Town Council vote on options next Monday
* Are they the right options
* Will the community step up, offer, implement and sustain an alterative (and would such an offer even be considered?)
The rest of this blog entry and the previous one suggest a way it could be done
I note from the report to the Town Council that something has to change with regard the Assembly Hall - decision already made: "A ‘retain the status quo’ option has not been explored in this report. The acuteness of risk this would place on MTC in light of COVID-19-impacted losses and the impact this has had on the General Reserves is simply too great for taxpayers to bear."
The Assembly Hall is loved and heavily used, but only by a small proportion of Melksham Town residents. It does bring many people from outside Melksham Town in, for the benefit of businesses in the town. It's the largest hall / such space in West Wiltshire - though for some uses it's really too big. Other spaces are around too, and coming (back) on tap in due course - the campus has a large sports hall, and there's supposed to be a re-opened hall in Melksham House.
I have added a very brief summary of the Assembly Hall accounts into the end of my recent blog. A loss (expenditure over income) of £50,000 per annum equates very roughly to £10 on the council tax charge per band D property, and it has been stated that's "unsustaiable". That £50k year was the last full year before Covid (so typical income), but did not include any major capital / repair / refurbishment work as far as I can see.
OK - if someone (who? - I'm a Town Councillor and haven't seen this at one of our meetings - one of the Committees I'm not on?) has already decided that things must change. The report offers a choice between Option 1 - 'Moth ball’ the AH / Option 2 - ‘Village Hall’ format / Option 3 - Operate as a ‘Hosting Venue’. I have asked about something else ... a lease to an operator such as is done with the old Fire Station , the Cricketer's Cafe, etc. But let me qualify that.
As a commercial venture for a "for profit" company, the Assembly Hall would be a tough nut. Employment costs high, significant risks, limited business growth opportunities, concern at local sentiment and buy in to what has been a community asset, worry about competitive venues such as Melksham House. But with a structure such as a CIC (Community Interest Company), it may have potential. I could write long here but what that would need is drivers who would put their time where their mouth is. We have an incredible number of very skillled people locally who, whilst they are busy, may each have some time to give. Melksham can and has done things like this before and could again.
I am NOT going to write long on this today. I am NOT the one to lead - rather hoping perhaps to seed an idea. What I am happy to offer is to present a case on Monday for the extension of the status quo, or option 2 on a temporary basis (a few months) while you get set up. But to do that, I need someone to say "I will chair and drive the initial meeting" and a handful of others to say "I will have at least a few hours each week to help", and to come along (zoom or In Real Life) to an initial meeting in the next few days; I would be happy to invite a handful around to my home if you want to discuss in real life too, and to share further thoughts, ideas, experience of a CIC.
Huge credit is due to the team who have worked at the Assembly Hall so hard over recent years; I would hope and look to help facilitate the building of the future on their hard work in the past, and in such a way that we can continue to make best use of their knowledge, skills and enthusiasm. And also to say "Thank you" to them for the incredible job they have done so far, which has built up the swell of use and love for the hall which we've seen on Facebook in recent days.
Published Thursday, 5th August 2021
Melksham Assembly HallJump down to (here) for Town Council suggested options and (here) for another alternative of mine also (here) for an account summary.
I would welcome resident's views, and pointers to the manifesto comments and promises made by grouping and parties at the May election, on the future of the Melksham Assembly Hall.
The Hall is not my speciality, but it comes up on the agenda at full council next Monday (9th August): "To receive the report of the Facilities Manager and the Head of Communications. Members are requested to make a decision based on the recommendations contained therein." The full meeting papers, including the report are on the public website at ((here))
1. I wish to be speak and vote on this matter in representation of the residents, informed of what they voted for as part of the packages in May, and also informed directly of their views.
2. I would appreciate comment as to whether the options we are asked to choose between offer a good wide range of possibilities or whether there are other significantly different alternatives which [should] have been considered.
I am aware that no decision on what happens at or with the Assembly Hall over the coming years will be to the satisfaction of everyone. As I write this, I'm looking to learn about views and objectives such that I can make my best contribution to the discussion and vote next Monday for Melksham as a whole.
If you're on Facebook, I have started a thread ((here)) where you can answer; otherwise email, phone, etc ... as per my contacts page. Or stop me in the street at tell me!
I have followed up in a couple of places on Facebook - too many people posting in many places for me to try to get to them all. It fills you in further on the text above.
I have linked to the meeting agenda from my blog at http://grahamellis.uk/blog216.html , where I have solicited views of residents, and also inputs from the parties / teams / groups elected in May as to what they said about the Assembly Hall prior to you voting their councillors in.
The agenda asks us "To receive the report of the Head of Communications. Members are requested to make a decision based on the recommendations contained therein" and I am looking at inputs to help me understand views on options 1 to 3, whether option 4 should be followed through in conjunction with 2. or 3., and I would also like to understand any other options which may not have been explored (I am concerned about pre-selection eliminating something good before it got to full council). All options are explored in more details (starting on page 33, after the bypass stuff), looking at costs and risks, though there is little if any reference to the relative community benefit the council would buy with each.
Option 1 - 'Moth ball’ the AH
Option 2 - ‘Village Hall’ format
Option 3 - Operate as a ‘Hosting Venue’
Option 4 - Greater focus on Cinema; "This is not so much a standalone option, but one that is worth greater consideration in conjunction with Option(s) 2 or 3."
Option 0 - A ‘retain the status quo’ option has not been explored in this report. The acuteness of risk this would place on MTC in light of COVID-19-impacted losses and the impact this has had on the General Reserves is simply too great for taxpayers to bear.
I'm newish to this - first time I saw the report was this afternoon - so a bit jumbled at the moment - but please follow up and help understand the community element too, at https://www.facebook.com/Graham4Melksham/posts/184617870394038
Note that there IS a published Zoom code for the meeting, and as a public meeting residents are welcome to observe. There is an opportunity to speak at the start, and the council might "suspend standing orders" during the meeting to give further input opportunities.
Edited to add ...
A new lease - a life for the Assembly Hall?
I'm noting that the cricket pavillion on KGV is being leased to the people running the Cricketer's Cafe and that the old fire station (most recently Art House Cafe) is being leased to the Good News
Would that be "Option 5" for the Assembly Hall? Has consideration been given to leasing it to an opertor or management team as their mainstream business, rather than continuing to operate it as an adjunct of the activities of the Town Council?
A correspondent writes "I think with the right management, right staffing ( it’s at least half way there ) and a few quid on updating it’s got a huge potential, personally believe that historically a lot of the ideas for what should happen to it are based on views of people who use it for their own specific needs, it’s needs to be a multi use venue that can adapt, it’s been stuck in the mud for many years... a discussion on it is really positive, it’s never going to be making a colossal profit, but it could easily deliver brilliant event space and not lose a fortune." - is he or someone he knows the right person to take it on and explore this possibility?
Would a majority of Town Councillors support this option, which would allow the town to retain and develop the benefits the building offers "This is a valuable community asset, which also a key role in the recreational activity of the town. It also attracts visitors, generating income for the night time economy" writes another. Amongst our number and in our wider community we have some people with extensive experience and wonderful vigour and drive, and great vision and contacts. Would any of them fancy taking this on? I am just sewing the seed of an idea ...
Edit - added 5.8.2021 at 06:30
Summary from Assembly Hall accounts via http://melksh.am/AH_accounts
Salaries and employment costs such as NI contributions have been around 120,000 per annum
Expenditure (2019) included 62,000 fees / percentage to live show acts
Expenditure (2019) included 17,000 on live show production costs and film hires
Expenditure (2019) included 23,000 on bar supplies
Income (2019) of around 100,000 from ticket sales and events
Income (2019) of around 60,000 from the bar
Income (2019) of around 37,000 from general lettings
Income (2019) of around 18,000 from luncheon club
Income has collapsed due (in part or whole-ly?) to Coronavirus effects
I look at the income to 31.3.2021 and suspect it does NOT include furlough income, even though the expenditure shows salaries at the 'usual' levels.
Published Wednesday, 4th August 2021
Get your Covid vaccination TODAYPlease don't leave until tomorrow what you could do today. If you are 18 or over and have not yet been vaccinated, please walk, cycle or drive up to Spencers (on the main road towards Beanacre and Chippenham) and get your vaccination. Times and details in the attached graphic.
I have several very good friends who have been very seriously ill (life changing debilitation with Covid and its after effects) and one who has passed away. Lived locally. This is not a "somewhere else, someone else" problem.
Published Tuesday, 3rd August 2021
Staff announcementsFrom my councillor inbox - following announcements to all councillors and staff members of Melksham Town Council. I would like to add my voice to those of Patsy and Linda in thanking Tim and David for all their hard work, and wish them both all the very best for the future.
30th July 2021:
Dear Councillors and Colleagues
I write to inform you that Tim Cross, Facilities and Hospitality Manager will be leaving his role with the town council on 31 August 2021.
We are extremely grateful for Tim’s hard work at the Council over the past five years and hope that you will join us in wishing him all the best for the future.
26th July 2021:
Dear Councillors and Colleagues
I write to inform you that David McKnight, Economic Development Manager will be leaving his role with the town council on 31 August 2021.
We are extremely grateful for David’s hard work at the Council over the past eighteen months and hope that you will join us in wishing him all the best for the future.
Published Sunday, 1st August 2021
Councillor Interaction on Social MediaMelksham Bypass. The Campus. Encouraging visitors. Canal. Speeding Cars. Council expenditure. Safety, security, CCTVs. Dog Poo. Zero Carbon. KGV Park. Assembly Hall. Brambles and maintenace of paths. Double deck buses. Lighting. The Spiritualist Garden. Car parking. School drop-off congestion. Online access to Council meetings. The old fire station. Housing growth. Cycle lanes on the road. A lot of topics pass through my laptop either out of a general interest, or because of my new role as a Melksham Town councillor.
As I understand it, all parties / teams on Melksham Town council have requested that their new councillors refrain from social media discussions on the sort of topics I have listed. From their position, there's a lot of sense in that. It leaves the way clear for other sources, such as council officers and party / team spokespersons to put out a single clear message. It avoids elected members new to the job finding themselves in a flood of strongly felt (so emotionally written) views on topics on which as yet they may be under-informed, and where they could at times look less than impressive in response. It avoids alienating the electorate by publishing their own views or reasons where perhaps electors might not agree. And it avoids the risks of publishing risks (copyright, libel, etc) as well as concerns about what people may read about themselves.
All sensible, but it can leave the electorate feeling left out, and feeding on snippets of hearsay and rumours which can get blown out of all proportion. And councillors can be accused of failing to listen to their voters - a real shame because your parish (Town) councillor covers the smallest of geographic areas of any elected representative and lives (well, I do anyway) in the area they represent and they should - in my view - be available via any practical route, that availability being tempered by a practicality of the time available to someone who's doing the whole thing on a voluntary and unpaid basis.
It's either a very brave or very foolish (or both!) newcomer to council and social media who sticks his/her head above the parapet and encourages interaction - the more so if "the party" tells him/her not to do so. But, yet, so much of the authority of the councillor relates to them listening, discussing, learning, considering. Considering the silent majority as well as the vocal, impassioned minority, mark you!
I am personally in a somewhat different position to other councillors on Melksham Town Council. I am not a member of a party or team; happy to work with them and doing so, but not encumbered by "party lines" nor advised / directed by leaders who have prior experience of being elected representatives, and agendas they are following. I am not looking to build or continue a career in politics. And, though new to council, I have a number of years of online forum and social media experience which helps me handle the significant pitfalls that are there, while gaining huge benefit for myself (in keeping informed and in letting people know) and my community. I described new councillor on social media as brave, foolish or both - but with my background, I don't feel brave and I'll risk being considered foolish.
My Facebook page at Graham4Melksham is public, and open for anyone to follow up on any topic which I start. I will stick to topics which are relevant to Melksham and the role, and encourage follow up and discussion. I am happy to start new topics / share from elsewhere to trigger discussions too - sometimes I may need to be prompted to pick up a topic.
The code of conduct that I and the team at the Great Western Coffee Shop use ( see http://www.passenger.chat/1761 ) has proven to be a good one over the years, and I'm following the same principles on my Facebook page. In summary, keep it legal, keep civil, keep reasonably close to topic and don't flood post, don't get personal and you are very welcome. Happy for you to air views that are not mine. I do reserve the right to delete comments and switch of commenting, but will do so very rarely and only when the principles are broken. Where such things are broken and it appears accidental, I'll send a personal message to let you know why. People are pretty good and understanding about that (that you) - from my message box yesterday when I felt I had to 'moderate' - No problem ... I do appreciate that you won’t want to get dragged into it ... you are just unfortunate enough to be one of the few councillors who actually posts and gives opportunity to pass comment. and that answer gave me a wonderful confirmation that my social media engagement is about right.
The Facebook feed is far from the only place you can reach me or indeed your other councillors. We are all on email, for example. Our meeting are public for the most part, and most of them have a public participation before they start. A system through which meetings can be attended on Zoom and watched via YouTube is coming in (some issues which I hope are teething ones at present). My home address and phone numbers are well publicised too. I have taken a strategic decision not to dilute my time by having a continual monitoring of LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or other social media; better to do one or two (Coffee Shop and Facebook) well than try to do have a dozen and do them all too thinly.
Published Saturday, 31st July 2021
Picture Melksham - MAPGThe Melksham Amateur Photography Group ( Facebook Private Group ) met outside the Town Hall a couple of day ago. They meet every Thursday for 2 hours of photography in towns, villages and countryside in the area and when it's practical by public transport, cycle or walking I go along. No quality-of-photography pre-requisites, as you'll note from my contributions.
I've not been going long, and Thursday was the first of their meetings I was at within Melksham. And how much that confirmed to me:
a) What a lovely town and hidden gems we have
b) What lovely people are here about
c) How being a parish councillor is a 24 hour 'job', and I can't walk around without people stopping for a chat - I love it, and it helps keep me informed, and it helps me inform you.
Topics: The commercial economies of running a cafe (two having opened recently - the Cricketers and the Melksham Hub). What's needed and how to set about applying for a license for a cafe (elsewhere). Whether or not the canal will actually be built. Noisy "boy racers" late at night. Future prospects at The Avon / Cooper Tire / Goodyear. Noise and vibration from the A350. Improving the path from the cemetery gate parallel to the A350 that's behind the bund to encourage cycling. Blocking of footpaths. The farmer's bridge over the river to the north of Murray Walk. And one lady (PLEASE call me!) who parked up to catch me, but wants to talk away from the High Street where we were.
If you want to see your local council in action, we're now back meeting in the Town Hall and virtually on Zoom. You can also watch on YouTube. Please come along on Monday to the Economic Development and Planning Committee. I have links to the agenda (short cuts) at my http://melksh.am page which is set up to help you get places quickly.
There's public participation at the start, where any residents can make statements and raise concerns. Questions raised will not be answered right away (the councillors don't know what will be asked, nor will they be able to debate an answer), but they will be noted and followed up as appropriate. That's followed by typical business - taking a look at planning applications to Wiltshire Council and highways issues, and perhaps making local inputs to each of them. Then other business such as (on Monday) noting Wiltshire Council Gambling Statement of Licensing Principles, and the Wiltshire Council By-pass Consultation where there will be a presentation by Steve Wilson, Major Highways Project Engineer, Wiltshire Council. If there is substantial public presence on an agenda item, it was traditional under previous councils for such items be moved up the agenda as the meeting starts, but that swap around is not guaranteed
Published Saturday, 24th July 2021